French League: National table tennis champion Harmeet Desai all set to fly

It's been a frustrating last few months for national table tennis champion Harmeet Desai.

First, it was the Coronavirus-caused lockdown that began in March, when all table tennis action stopped. Then, when the unlocking began a couple of months back, Desai was left disappointed by the denial of travel visas.

However, he has finally managed to secure a visa to participate in the French League, making him the first India paddler to travel abroad for competition since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Long wait for visa

"The last six months have been most frustrating as it is the longest period that I've been away from the sport. It was like a really long off-season for me.

Then, since August I've been trying for a visa to go abroad for training and competition, but initially they were only allowing students into European countries. Work visas were not allowed then. Finally, I managed to get my visa on Wednesday," Desai, 27, told mid-day over the phone from Surat.

Desai's last tournament was the Oman Open in March, where he won two bronze medals, one in singles and the other in men's doubles with veteran paddler Sharath Kamal.

Desai will be representing the Loire Nord Table Tennis Club in the French League that begins on October 20.

The 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning paddler, leaves for France on October 8, and believes this will be more of a mental test than a physical one.

"I'm very excited but at the same time, I'm also a bit anxious as I've been away from competition for so long. This will be a different feeling. I'm also going to be the first [from the country] to go abroad and play during this COVID-19 period. All eyes will be on my performance and how things pan out in France," added Desai.

Mother worried

Meanwhile, his mother Archana, 56, who is the principal of a primary school is Surat, is a tad worried for her son's safety. "My mother knew that I had applied for the visa but now that it's come, she's a bit emotional about me leaving home during this [COVID-19] period. She started crying when she learnt that I'll be leaving soon and insists I take good care of myself," said Desai, who is currently ranked 72 in the world.

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